ARRCC President Thea Ormerod wrote this article for religious media prompted by January 2013's terrible heat waves and catastrophic bushfires. It was intended for inclusion in the Melbourne Anglican, Baptist Witness and the Columban's Far East magazine.
January's terrible heat-waves and catastrophic bushfires have been costly and heart-breaking. Before them, Australians have suffered through a prolonged drought and then floods. All of these weather-related crises have been challenging to say the least, especially for people living in the bush. For Christians, is it enough to trust in God, or is more being asked of us?
Few would argue with the observation that Australia's climate is becoming more volatile. Most scientific research bodies like the CSIRO tell us global warming may not be creating the weather events but they are certainly intensifying them. Well, it is the extreme nature of these events which is so devastating. What scientists would add is that the evidence for humanity's role in creating this more volatile climate is becoming ever more unimpeachable.
The fire-fighters and others bravely involved in the management of these calamities are to be whole-heartedly commended. However, our society can do much more than only manage the events while they are occurring or afterwards. Globally, it is now widely accepted that humanity must find ways of living in harmony with the environment rather than simply exploiting it. Business-as-usual is no longer an option. Investment in renewable energy has been outstripping investment in non-renewables internationally. China is pursuing energy security through clean energy, and is the world's largest producer of solar panels.
Leaders in nearly all Christian denominations have issued strong statements urging the faithful to care for Creation. Concretely, believers are called to change their consumption patterns with a view to conserving the gifts of Creation for those who come after us. In the words of Anglican Bishop George Browning:
'We urge society to have a grandchild mentality, that is to say, a way of thinking that weighs choices in the present against their potential cost to future generations."
What stops us is the feeling that any effort we make will be costly yet futile in the grand scheme of things. Christians will tell themselves to trust in God's providence. Let's do that, but let's do more. Trusting in God also means believing that God will value our small contributions and make them transformative.
There are many organisations and individuals who don't let their sense of helplessness stop them. According to the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia, in October 2012 there were 1.5 million Australian households with solar on their rooftop. Panels are great but there are smaller things we can do, and most of them are cheaper. We can travel less, buy less stuff, insulate our homes, eat less meat, use less air con, sell the freezer, hang out the clothes rather than using the drier. Switching to GreenPower with your existing electricity company is a more expensive option, but it's very effective. It's become less expensive since the Clean Energy Future legislation (aka "carbon tax") was introduced.
Cutting your carbon footprint isn't as radical as it sounds. As a society, we were burning 30% less fossil fuel in 1990 and we lived pretty well then! And what's your super fund investing in? Most funds offer the choice of environmentally sustainable investment options, and the returns are at least as good. Thinking big picture, we also need to get behind political change. This election year, think about which candidates support the development of renewable energy and more ambitious emission reduction targets.
Whole communities can respond too. There are dozens of encouraging examples of Christian parishes, schools and organisations around Australia which have variously switched to GreenPower, installed solar panels, promoted the Lenten Carbon Fast, advocated for political change or pursued energy efficiency. These communities show that change is possible.
The Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) has a vision of more and more Christian communities taking concrete and achievable steps to help care for Creation. We are currently launching an inspirational and informative online Climate Action Kit which can be found under Resources.
The extreme weather events we have experienced are the way Creation has of crying out. The call is for humanity to restrain our consumption, to protect the ecological balance that allows life to thrive on this planet.